Tag: Yosemite

California Life, Faith, Living In Tennessee, Married Life

Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

Faith, Joy, Work

Reality Check: I am, indeed, a work horse

Most days, I feel like a work horse.

My life is full of obligations that live on repeat.

At home there is the never-ending cycle of laundry, cooking and cleaning, school drop-offs, shaken up with a doctors appointment every now and again. At work, it’s bookkeeping, reconciling checkbooks, onboarding and offboarding employees, and all of the details in between. Some days, it feels like I continually pour myself out, only to be left completely empty at the end of the day…and then I need to wake up and do it all again the next day.

On one such day recently, I was driving to work, feeling tired and like my recent Christmas break was full of more work than rest. I was thinking about years and seasons past…times I’d spent cross country skiing through fresh Sierra snow, instead of driving on busy highways; living in a house with a view of mountains, instead of hundreds of vinyl-sided houses. I was feeling melancholy and nostalgic…an exhausting combination to start out a busy day.

Then on my Daily Audio Bible podcast, I heard the following scripture:

Psalm 32:8-10 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

I instantly thought of how different the life of a work horses is from the well-kept horses I see in the barns scattered throughout the Tennessee countryside. 

The work horses have a daily objective and purpose. In the mountains, they carried heavy loads of  food and provisions to hikers and the high country camps. In the Grand Canyon, each day they carry tourists down the 5000 foot descent to the Colorado River; and then the next day turn around and carry the tourists back up.

The horses kept for pleasure have a different life…one that is far more focused on their wants and likes, than that of a work horse. 

I realized that what I most wanted in life, at that exact moment, was to be a kept horse, in a nice stable with acres of grass to graze at my leisure.

Instead, that day as I drove to work, I came to the undeniable realization that my current lot in life is to be a work horse. I am a hard worker who is diligent and thorough. I’m faithful and trustworthy and consistent. Just like so many of you who are reading this.

But, as the scripture references, I also tend to be a horse that needs to be controlled by bit and bridle. For the past four years, I’ve been engaged in a spirited battle of MY will for my life, versus GOD’S will. 

My will looks like mountain streams, and beautiful views and long walks along the Tuolumne River with my husband. God’s will currently looks like a 40-minute commute, wrangling with Quickbooks, and time away from my family…but it also includes helping to make a fantastic ministry even better, using my talents in new and interesting ways, and being part of a team who is engaged in actively serving and helping people in our community. 

Living out God’s will for my life requires faithful hard work and a dozen daily decisions to set aside my own ideas for my life, to fully embrace His. Because God has different plans, and they are always better than whatever I could imagine.

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 

God saw a ministry in Franklin, Tennessee, that somehow needed exactly what I’d learned while running our small business. God saw schools where our kids could thrive, and a church that would make us come alive in ways we never imagined. Each step of the way, God has revealed His will for my life, and my family’s life. And He continues to do so. 

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Trusting God, and really believing that his intent is to bless me (and you) and to love me (and you) UNFAILINGLY, is what transforms daily work into an offering to Him. It makes it, not about my talents and effort, but about showing up, saying “Here I am,” and allowing Him to use my life that day, however He sees fit. 

 

Joy, More Posts

The Legend of the Yosemite Snow Banner

It was my first time in the Ahwahnee bar, that cold March night in quiet Yosemite Valley. We were lucky enough to know locals on that first visit, and they wisely advised us that an inexpensive way to enjoy the historic Ahwahnee Hotel was to linger over a nice cocktail. 

It was warm and dark in the bar, with a motif of dark wood and what I remember to be deep red curtains lining the floor-to-ceiling windows and back wall. It had the aura of a place that had hosted many conversations; many deep thoughts; and many bodies tired from a day of exploring and ready for a bit of rest. It felt like old friends and relaxation.

The cocktail menu featured warm drinks that my young self had never imagined. Hot cocoa and coffee drinks mixed with rums, liqueurs and splashed with whipped cream. After much studying, I settled on a Snow Banner: A hot chocolate drink with Irish cream, cherry liqueur and a generous dollop of whipped cream. The server brought it to our table in tall glass mugs. I immediately cupped my hands around it, lacing my fingers through the handle and felt the warmth seep into my cold fingers. I lifted it to my lips and tasted the sweetness of the cocoa; the bite of the whiskey and the delicate whip of the cream. It tasted to me like heaven itself, and it was torturous trying to make that single drink last…I wanted more from that very first sip, and I never wanted it to end.

Years went by, and the Snow Banner lived in my memory as the best winter drink that had ever crossed my lips. Each year, I went to the Ahwahnee, hopefully looking at their hot drink menu, but I never saw the Snow Banner again…

Until the year we took our staff to Yosemite for a Christmas party. 

Our small business was overwhelmingly busy before Christmas, and in January we’d have a party to thank everyone for their hard work, service and care. One year, we decided to take our staff members and their spouses ice skating in Yosemite, followed by drinks at the Ahwahnee. Though our business was located right outside Yosemite National Park, several staff members had never been ice skating at the Curry Village rink, with views of Half Dome, and none had experienced a hot winter drink at the Ahwahnee Bar (and we weren’t rich enough to take everyone to the Ahwahnee dining room for dinner).

As we settled in around a large table, we perused the menu, and I reminisced about the Snow Banner…how there had never been another drink like it; how its flavor captured all that was magical about my first trip to Yosemite, and like all first times, could never quite be repeated.

A waiter took our orders, and I began to tell him about the drink. He got an inquisitive look, and said, “Just a minute.”

A few minutes later, he emerged from the depths of the hotel with an Ahwahnee Bar menu from 1993. The edges had been nibbled by mice, and he informed me that he kept a filing cabinet of old menus, and the mice sometimes got into it.

As I looked at the menu, midway down the page, I saw the Snow Banner. I stared at the ingredients, feeling vindicated that this drink that I had never again seen on the Ahwahnee Bar menu, actually existed. It wasn’t a made-up fantasy.

The waiter looked satisfied, too…as someone who had worked at the Ahwahnee for decades, you could tell he was excited his memory was able to take my story, and stitch it back into reality.

Of course I ordered a Snow Banner that night. As I sipped it, looking at the faces of our staff members, it tasted different, but still amazing. 

It’s true that you can’t repeat first times, but sometimes reliving legendary memories during a new chapter of life makes it even sweeter. I felt like I had completed a circle. I was no longer a college student, engaged to my fiance, and visiting Yosemite for the first time. I was 15 years older, a boss, a mother and a wife, living the life of my dreams as we grew our home and our business just outside of Yosemite. 

That night at the Ahwahnee, with the mouse-chewed menu and the Snow Banner in my hands provided a new memory…the kind where, for just a few moments, you fully realize the full measure of your blessings, and it fills you with fresh thanks and awe.

Faith

Since Cars Don’t Fly…Learn To Be Patient…

At the top of Glacier Point Road, I gazed down at Yosemite Valley, 2,000 feet directly below and thought, “Gosh, if my car could just fly, I’d be down there in 30 seconds.” Instead, it took 1.25 hours to navigate the mountain roads down to Yosemite Valley, behind a long line of tourist traffic.

Similarly, on my morning commute, I slowed my car down to a painful 25 miles per hour to exit the highway, thinking, “if my car could just jump off the bridge, I wouldn’t be so bored, with all of this slowing down nonsense…” But I drove the clover leaf, turned on my left turn signal, and waited to turn onto the road below.

I am always looking for a shortcut; for an easier path; for something that takes less time. But I’m also not stupid. I know that my car can’t fly, and driving off a highway overpass may get me to the ground beneath quickly, but not in one piece…

So I slow down…and I do what I’m supposed to do. I do what’s wise, and calculated, and prudent, but gosh…sometimes, it’s just so boring!

Driving roads like this reminds me of how I look for shortcuts in other areas of my life. I get bored of the waiting, and the doing, and the praying, and JUST WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

So, I do something drastic…like the time I cut my hair super short in college, because I didn’t want to look so young; or the time I decided to repaint my living room at 9PM at night because the white walls were making me that nuts…

Or I lash out, becoming suddenly irritated and bitter over things that don’t normally make me flinch.

Or I quit…because I’m just so tired of trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, again…

In those times, it’s so hard to stay the course. To do the next good thing. To persevere…Because I just want to be off the stinking road, and at the final destination…

Yes, I know “the joy is in the journey,” but for Pete’s sake, can’t the journey include a side trip to Hawaii, or at least a Mai Tai on the house, every once in awhile?

But here’s the reality: If you don’t navigate the roads in Yosemite carefully, you’ll end up driving over a 1,500 foot cliff. If you don’t slow down on the highway exit, you’ll cause a 20-car pile up, and do much more than ruin the morning commute.

And if you take short cuts in life, because you’re tired or bored or lazy…it often leads to disaster.

So, despite myself, I’m learning to cultivate this thing called patience. As I told my 5-year-old son, patience is a super power. Having peace in the waiting is 99% of the battle, isn’t it?

As you wait for the diagnosis…

As you wait to see if the offer on your house was accepted…

As you wait to see if the business idea will succeed or fail…

As you wait to see if the college will accept you..

What if, instead of worrying and feeling like life was out of control, you rested?

What if, instead of planning and strategizing and thinking, you trusted?

What if you believed that waiting is not only okay, but is an essential part of the process?

What if you expected to wait?

As we learn to wait, God shows His peace and His plan, in an entirely new way…in His own good time.

Psalm 27:14 Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

 

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What I Miss About Living In California

I lived in California for 22 years, which is exactly half of my life. It’s been three months since I left the Golden State, and it seems like a good time to write a list (in no particular order) of the things I have begun to really miss:

1.  In-N-Out Burger
Like many California transplants, I remember the first time I ate an In-N-Out burger. I was driving home to Yosemite with my boss Claudia, and it was growing late. We were hungry, and as we discussed dining options, she discovered I had never eaten at In & Out. We stopped in Tracy, and I remarked at the simple menu. Hamburgers…Cheeseburgers…Double Cheeseburgers…and fries. How could something so simple be so good? As we drove away and I took the first bite, I realized SOMETHING SO SIMPLE IS SO GOOD. There is nothing like In & Out. Anywhere. The fresh meat that is perfectly salted; the melted cheese; the bun toasted to a slight crisp; the crisp iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing; the french fries that are ACTUALLY POTATOES cut there, in the restaurant…oh my gosh. In-N-Out…Get in my tummy right now.

2. Yosemite and the High Sierra
Beauty. Majesty. Unexpected, breathtaking gloriousness unfolding on every single drive. Hikes to waterfalls and 8000-foot domes. Meandering alongside ancient trees. Taking in fantastic mountain vistas, and equally intriguing minute details…I will never grow tired of exploring and loving the Sierra mountains.

3. My Friends
So many great friends. Real, true friends, who I had babies alongside; wrangled toddlers with; homeschooled together; and otherwise navigated the craziness of life. I can’t stand the fact that I will likely never again live in the same town as these soul sisters. Can we please meet for coffee, or Bunco, or a 10K in Santa Cruz, once again?

4. My Mom and Dad

My parents moved to California a decade ago, and I grew used to them being in the same town as me. It’s so odd to live across the country from them, and know that when I call, I’m 2000 miles away, and not simply across town. How did I manage to leave California before they did?

5. The Turkeys
Seriously. We had the most entertaining wild turkeys at our last house. They paraded on our front deck, acting like they owned the place…and in truth, they did own it, far more than we did (we sold the house and moved…they are still there…). In the 3+ years we lived there, we saw the flock grow from about a dozen to over 30. There were Tom turkeys who plumed their feathers and walked with a cocky strut; baby turkeys who grew from tininess to awkward toddlers within days; and hens who seemed both interested and indifferent to the Toms, depending on the time of year. Every day we watched them peck for food in the grasses; balance on the handrail of our deck, 20 feet above ground; and roost in the old Ponderosa Pine in our side yard. They were a part of our family, and “turkey” was one of my son’s first words, because they were (and are) so remarkable to watch.

6. Cool Bean Cafe
Cool Bean is the quintessential small town coffee shop. Cool Bean owners Casey and Alyssa Lucas built something far beyond Starbucks. It is the heart of the town, and on any given day you can find people from nearly every social circle gathering there to share time and life. Besides being a place to gather, the coffee is so good, it’s art. I miss coffee made with the craftsmanship of Cool Bean’s offerings. I have yet to find something as good, in taste and ambiance, here in Tennessee.

7. Pizza Factory

Everyone knew my name at the Pizza Factory. They knew I ordered a #3 (a slice of cheese pizza and a salad with an iced tea and lemon)…then a diet special (a salad bar and iced tea with lemon), once it became apparent to me that gluten was no longer my friend. I enjoyed meals there as we launched our business; countless lunches with my husband as we navigated our way through business ownership; parenthood; cancer; life. We had staff parties, and birthday parties and going way parties at that place…When you are done eating, the staff yells, “Thank you!” and “Good Bye” as you push the glass door into the parking lot. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t leave Pizza Factory happier than when I arrived. I miss settling down into a booth, and enjoying yet another tasty lunch with my family.

8. The cool summer mountain evenings

The heat of California’s Central Valley summers are only made bearable by one thing: the cool evenings. When the sun sets, the heat lifts, and you are left with a fresh coolness and a slight breeze that is altogether wonderful. It’s almost like the beach…but it’s more like a breath of life and hope at the end of a parched, dusty day. Those summer evenings are the perfect setting for sitting on the porch, enjoying a margarita, and pondering the stars.

9. The stars at night

Away from the glow of the city, the stars take on a spectacular three-dimensional quality. I always meant to memorize all of the constellations, but never got beyond a handful. So many nights, I’d arrive home from town, unfold myself from the car, take a deep breath of the crisp mountain air, and look up to see the twinkling lights of the magnificent stars, shining down on me. It made me feel so small and insignificant, and like the richest person in the world…I had something better than diamonds shining down on me, showing me their glory, every clear night.

10. The view from my bedroom window

When I first moved to California, I could see Yosemite Falls from my bedroom window in Yosemite Valley. Then when I moved to Oakhurst, I saw a riverbed with a spectacular mountain vista rising above it. Later on, once we bought a house, I saw 250 year old oak trees amongst the tall brown grasses…and then in our final home, and spectacular vista of Sierra foothills, Ponderosa Pines and Sycamore leaves. I loved waking up and seeing such beauty. It was an early morning blessing, every single day.

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